Balinese Cremation Ceremony

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“Stop!”

A man dressed in a sarong and black t-shirt interrupted our only source of fresh air. We were exploring the small island of Nusa Lembongan on a tiny motorbike, taking in the breeze on this suffocating day. Many people were gathered around him, all looking in the same direction. I cut the engine and parked the bike on the side of the road. We had stumbled onto a Balinese cremation ceremony.
Nusa Lembongan is considered the island of evil spirits by the mainlanders, but for the residents and the tourists alike, it’s a beautiful and calm place, surrounded by pristine beaches and amazing cliffs. We had left our bungalow in a quiet and remote part of the island and were trying to find our way into “the village”, where the small shops and restaurants were located. We never made it. This stop was pure luck.
The cremation ceremony is a rare and very special event for the Balinese people. First, it has to happen on an auspicious day, calculated and determined by priests using one of the most complex calendars in the world. Secondly, the cost for the family of the deceased is so high that they almost always have to bury the dead for many months (sometimes years) before they have enough money for the ceremony.
Foreigners are more than welcome to join and enjoy the spectacle. Actually, the day is filled with joy and smiles more than tears and mourning. It’s a celebration after all.
The ceremony is quite complex and takes almost all day. The dead, which were unearthed and wrapped in leaves and a white shroud, are brought and piled into what resembles a tower carried by the townspeople. The tower is high enough that power lines need to be lifted with long branches.
A few weeks before the ceremony, special totems were built by specialized craftsmen in order to represent each deceased. This is where it gets pretty expensive for the families. The depicted animal is determined by the person’s caste and the colors are very vibrant. The bulls, elephants and other winged horses wait on a huge platform made of tree trunks and palm leaves.
The high tower containing all the bodies is carried around in circles and shaken as strongly as possible. This is to confuse the soul so that it doesn’t find its way back from heaven. After a while, the bodies are taken out and inserted one by one in their respective totem. The whole thing is then lit up and the fire rages on for hours. The pyre even broke down at some point.
When everything is over, the ashes are scattered in the ocean. It’s time for the soul to ascend and rest before its next incarnation.

Dusk Rainbow

Finally ponied up for the Canon 7D recently and today I decided to try two things:

1) understand the camera better

2) decide if I will be bringing the 10-20mm with me on a backpacking trip to Asia (later this week!)

I think  I understand the camera a little bit better now. For one, I was disappointed by the noise performance at ISO 100 in the shadows. I sincerely thought this was going to be THE camera. But to be 100% honest, this is my only complaint with the entire rig so far. The 8 fps shooting is unfrickingbelievable, for example.

As for the wide angle lens, I don’t think I will have the luxury to bring it with me for the 8 extra mm I would gain on the wider side. I am used to walk and travel with the 18-200mm so I guess I won’t add weight (and value!) in my backpack.

But the nice surprise came before the sun actually set. This happened:

Dusk Rainbow

Boom

Remnant of the war between the French and the British from the 18th century. Found in Quebec City.

Best albums of the decade

I know I’m late. I know it’s been done elsewhere. But I made a promise. So here is the best music I heard in the last ten years, in no particular order:

Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights

It took me many years to finally recognize the power of Interpol. I had really liked the song NYC when a friend of mind suggested I buy this one but for some strange reason, the rest of the album didn’t do that much to me… except for The New. Its instrumental outro was one of the best I had heard, on par with Hurricane #1 stuff. Weird then that it took me FIVE years and the following two albums to finally “get” Interpol. Now that I do my music life will never be the same. I still can’t believe that I was ignoring the album’s “rolling” guitar intro for so long. Oh and no, Interpol is definitely not Joy Division.

Gorillaz: Demon Days

Being a fan of Damon Albarn has never been this fun. Funky beats, cool lyrics, piano galore and fucking Shaun Ryder. Oh and that guy from Blue Velvet. I mean. Wow. While the first Gorillaz album left me lukewarm, this time it’s quite the concept album Albarn and Danger Mouse did there. And the live version they performed at the Manchester Opera House, available on DVD, is even better. An instant classic for the years to come.

David Potts: Coming Up For Air (and Monkey in the Rain)

Who’s that guy who can write Beatles melodies better than the Beatles and play most of the instruments by himself? Unfortunately, what we have here is probably the most underrated songwriter in the UK right now. Once part of the band Monaco with New Order’s Peter Hook, David Potts launched this solo album with the best EP of the last decade (Monkey in the Rain / Roll Up!). Buy them both, they are jam-packed with gems like Richard Parker, I’m Not Sleeping and World Isn’t Over. Oh and David, if you ever stumble onto this, we need more!

Dumas: (four albums!)

In December 2008, Dumas was launching the first of FOUR albums that were to be released in a timeframe of less than a year. This quadrilogy, comprised of Nord, Rouge, Demain and Au Bout du Monde, was in fact an experimental vehicle for the more down-to-earth (but still very impressive Traces). In other words, about a quarter of the tracks on the albums were reworded for Traces. Some incredible melodies and a mostly instrumental intro that got me hooked in no time made me want to get the following albums on iTunes (the pressed releases were quite limited). And never before have I been this excited about French Canadian music.

Arcade Fire: Funeral

And speaking of people from the province of Quebec,  I really can’t forget to include this absolutely mesmerizing album loved by people from all over the world, including a certain Mr. David Bowie. Everything clicked in this one, even if there are like 10,000 instruments playing at the same time. The Neighborhood series of songs are brilliant and the album balances beautiful and upbeat music like no one else. A must have.

Bad Lieutenant: Never Cry Another Tear

New Order is apparently no more, but what is brewing in Bernard Summer’s mind is certainly not to be dismissed at all. Released at the end of 2009, this album completely took me by surprised. Not one, not two but three guitarists is a very dangerous premise but boy did they pull it off. It’s also in my opinion a very interesting follow-up to Electronic’s Twisted Tenderness… but with more brain-melting melodies. And it’s amazing how the voice of Bernard is perfectly suited for Twist of Fate but also that Head Into Tomorrow couldn’t be sung by anyone else than newcomer Jake Evans. It’s been 3 months now and it still a drug to me as I need a fix more than once a week.

The Verve: Forth

The Verve’s last studio album was released in 1997. They had written terrific songs with Bittersweet Symphony and Drugs Don’t Work back then, but what the new album lacks in anthems, it more than makes up for it with carefully crafted pieces of music. Layered, textured, poignant. The first two songs are more single-material, but that’s just the start. Songs like Valium Skiesor the closer Appalachian Springs are not only great, they’re inspiring. They make you want to yell to the world how much you feel alive. Oh and don’t forget to use Judas during the chill portion of your soirées.

The Dears: Missiles

Even though I was a huge fan of this band even since I attended a gig of theirs, I did not know this new album was being released when someone alerted me to it. I then read that Murray Lightburn wanted to do a solo album, but it turned out he was really writing a Dears one. Well, I don’t know if that was the secret, because he finally wrote the perfect one. Yes, this album in a ten. No need to highlight a particular song, there is never a filler; only songs that reach you and are incredibly emotional. Lightburn’s singing has never been better or more mature and basically everything clicks together. And when the last song is over, you feel like you just witnessed something great.

Keane: Perfect Symmetry

This one just barely beat Portishead’s 3rd, but I have to put it here for the sheer surprise at how good this is. Forget the god awful cover, this is VERY good music. Keane has a knack for catchy music, with a lot of 80s influence in it. And they also wrote one of the most beautiful songs of the decade with Love is the End. So no matter how much I want to judge a book by its cover, this just isn’t the case here. Perfect Symmetry may not perfect but it’s pretty darn good.

Muse: Absolution

With this album, Muse started to take over the world. Forget Kid A, this is the music I expected to hear from Radiohead after OK Computer. I don’t think I need to say more than this, do I?

At the dentist

An array of torture tools on display.

The Locomotive

Those who know me also know how much I love trains and photographying them. Here’s a quick iPhone snap of a locomotive about to depart in Lac Mégantic in Southern Quebec.

Ice skating… Tranquilo!

We went ice skating last Saturday night and there wasn’t anyone else on the ice! What a perfect moment with the kids.